Michael Johnson reflects on one year with the Boys & Girls Club
Michael Johnson is surrounded by some of the many
youth who frequent the Boys & Girls Club on Taft Street.
By Jonathan Gramling
Part 1 of 2
Several years ago, it seemed that the Boys & Girls Club made a conscious
decision to withdraw form the communities that surrounded them, gently
pushing community meetings and groups to other venues and focusing on youth
development activities. It stopped being a neighborhood center and became
more like a private club for kids. While BGC was successful in raising large
amounts of private funding, its public support base began to erode.
When Michael Johnson came on board as the president/CEO of the Boys &
Girls Club, he got a lot of advice from a lot of sectors about what was right —
and wrong — with the club. One of those things that was wrong, in many people’
s estimation, was its lack of community connection. Johnson became
determined to bring the club out of its self-made cocoon and make the club a
vital hub of community life.
Johnson began to walk the community with Kaleem Caire, president/CEO of
the Urban League of Greater Madison. Johnson plays hoops with neighborhood
men at the Taft Street club on Saturday mornings. At many community events
and meetings, one often sees Johnson there in attendance, circulating and
meeting the crowd. In a little over a year, Johnson has given the club
heightened visibility in the South Madison area and beyond.
“I think at the end of the day, in order to serve this community, you have to keep your finger on the pulse,” Johnson said. “And you have to
know what is going on in the community. So I play basketball in this community. There is a group of men with whom I will play and they are
fathers from this neighborhood. I’m with them on Saturday mornings here in the club. There is a group of young men who play basketball over
at Penn Park. I’m usually out there some days when the weather was better. And I have coffee with some of the people who live in this
community. I’m going into the homes of some of the parents of the kids whom we serve. I let them know who I am and what level of support
that we can provide for their families.”
Reconnecting the club to the community paid off for Johnson and the club during the city of Madison deliberations over its 2011 budget.
“We got the community involved,” Johnson said. “When our funding was in jeopardy, we went down to one of the hearings with 100 people. It
was the community that helped us. If we didn’t build a strong relationship with some of the parents and community leaders, the community
when we had informed them that we were about to take a $30,000 cut, our parents and some community leaders went down there and spoke
on our behalf. And our funding was restored. It was a tough process, but we were pleased with the outcome.”
Johnson wasted no time making changes at the club. One thing he noticed right away was how run down the Taft Street facility looked.
Having no budget to renovate the facility, he raised in-kind supplies and help to give the club a cosmetic facelift. Included in the deal was a
new hardwood floor in the gymnasium. Actually, it wasn’t new. It has previously been the floor of the Bradley Center in Milwaukee for the
Johnson also hired a lot of new staff. “Some of the strategic partnerships that we have created have allowed me to hire additional staff,”
Johnson said. “We now have a 1:10 ratio, staff to kids. When I came on board, it was more like 1:19 ratio. One of the concerns that I heard
from our staff was we needed more staff and additional resources and connect to the community.”
He has also assembled a new leadership team.
“If you look at the team that we have assembled between the six new people I brought on board, we have about 128 years of combined
senior level management experience,” Johnson said. “Our development team is awesome. Becky who runs our Allied club is the former
executive director of CDI next door. My new chief operating officer was my number two person when I was in Philadelphia has a Master’s in
business and a ton of experience running youth development programs. The young lady we hired to run our AVID/TOPS Program ran
citizenship schools out in Houston. She also worked in Boston and brings a significant amount of college preparatory experience to our
Johnson has made some swift changes at the Boys & Girls Club, some of which have not been implemented without some controversy.